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Tom Sturridge in Remainder
Tom Sturridge in Omer Fast’s debut feature, RemainderCourtesy of Soda Pictures UK

Is arthouse thriller Remainder the next American Psycho?

Artist-turned-director Omer Fast has made a cerebral suspense that takes psychotic characters to dizzying new heights

Tom McCarthy’s novel Remainder was billed by author Zadie Smith as “one of the greatest English novels of the last ten years”. Now Remainder has been made into a high-octane thriller about memory loss. When the film’s main character, Tom (played by up-and-comer Tom Sturridge), loses his memory due to the impact of a falling object, he receives an £8.5 million settlement. With large gaps in his memory, he goes on an obsessive crusade to fill them by staging elaborate events that led up to the accident.

Although Tom doesn’t share the same taste for blood or infatuation for Huey Lewis and the News as American Psycho’s antihero Patrick Bateman, both characters are calculating to the point of derision. Both have a steely gaze and serious lack of empathy, and will stop at nothing to create a flawless environment. And both are Machiavellian yuppies. Tom buys a block of flats in Brixton with his financial reward and starts “moving people out in order to realise ideas and fantasies that he has about that location,” explains first-time director Omer Fast. It’s no accident that most of the people forced to relocate are black. Tom then hires actors to perform routine tasks in the hopes of triggering his memory. Dissatisfied with the results of his memory resuscitation plans, he moves on to a bigger and badder heist.

Fast, who art-world disciples may know as the man behind such genius works as 2007’s “The Casting” and cerebral mash-up videos like “CNN Concatenated”, offers cerebral takes on current events through edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Sturridge is a perfect fit as Tom. And while it may not be directly inspired by Mary Harron’s cult hit American Psycho, Fast’s debut is a dizzying thrill-ride, just like Mary Harron’s seminal, violent cult classic.

The main character Tom seems like the ultimate nouveau-riche yuppie.

Omer Fast: He is. In the film he’s even accused by his good lawyer friend, he shows up at his apartment at night and he’s been beat up on the street, but he nevertheless comes in with his clothes and face bloodied, holding a latte. His best friend congratulates him, it’s a costume party, and says, ‘Are you a zombie yuppie?’

Would you say Remainder is a bit like American Psycho?

Omer Fast: Erm, do you mean the book or the movie?

The movie.

Omer Fast: No, I don’t think so.

The book, then?

Omer Fast: Well, the book is wonderful. But I don’t think (my film) goes to the extremes that American Psycho went to. I think it’s a wonderful book. It’s a classic. Remainder is much more restrained, I think. We’ve pushed it beyond its own restraint, just because in the book there’s so much exposition and so much trapped in his head that it would have been possible to do something that is more possibly wild and experimental than what we’re doing. But I suspect maybe that’s always the case. I think my character has a difference between American Psycho the book and the movie as well.

Are there any books that give you ‘sensory overload’?

Omer Fast: We mentioned American Psycho. I think that’s a very good example of that. I think the book is a haunting, obsessive portrait of a particular sensibility which is very specific, very individual, and at the time it’s of course, it’s about the 80s. And it’s a classic.

Do you see similarities between your character and Patrick Bateman from American Psycho?

Tom Sturridge: Not really. In a sense, I understand the notion of apathy and lack of empathy but in my head, the character is not representative of a culture or a time, whereas I think Patrick Bateman very much was. I think his entire joinery is about trying to connect to the world and potentially, I say this with no authority whatsoever, Patrick Bateman’s was about trying to disconnect from the world.

It’s interesting how Tom tries to connect with the world based on some fucked-up logic. How did you approach developing your character?

Tom Sturridge: The great advantage of playing someone who essentially has no past or no concept of their own past is that I could go into each moment open and without any preconceptions. He literally could not build any preconceptions as he has no ideas to conceive – the danger of it, I haven’t seen the film but I’m sure it’s something that people are going to question. I had to ensure that he doesn’t have emotions, because he hasn’t learned emotion, so you have to fight your instincts within certain scenes and really be a blank page. I tried as hard as I could to offer nothing, basically, hoping that the audience would allow them to take in all their interpretations of the situation with an open mind.

There’s an undertone of gentrification in the film. Is it meant to be a commentary on the current situation in cities like London?

Tom Sturridge: I had talks with Tom about his intentions for the novel and I know there’s been a smell with people’s reactions to the film, indicating that this was an intentional thing, and I’m not convinced that it was. At the same time, if in any way you’re unintentionally describing what’s going on in the city, then you can’t escape the fact that gentrification and the forced eviction of true, real people is confirmed.

The ending, which I won’t give away, might frustrate some viewers – are you worried at all that movie-goers might not understand it?

Tom Sturridge: If we live in a world where we have to understand everything, then, fuck me... I’d be delighted if people were frustrated, because at least then they could feel something apart from mundane acceptance.

Remainder is out now in select UK cinemas and on VOD